Networks rebel on camera angles

With the first presidential debate Thursday, television networksplan to ignore an attempt by the Bush and Kerry campaigns tostage-manage the event by dictating which camera shots they can orcannot use.

The networks object to a provision in the debate agreementbetween the two candidates that says they cannot show a reactionshot of Democrat John Kerry when President Bush is speaking, orvice versa.

“The campaigns have agreed to this,” said Princell Hair, CNNgeneral manager. “We haven’t.

“We have access to these cameras and we’re going to – as wewould with any news event – decide which is the best way tobroadcast this,” he said. “A producer in the booth will make thosedeterminations, not some people in the campaign.”

Networks are also reluctant to agree to rules that restrict whatkind of camera shots they can offer of the audience at the fourupcoming debates, three for Kerry and Bush and one for the vicepresidential candidates. The campaigns signed a detailed, 32-pageagreement on how the debates are to be conducted.

The camera angles may seem like a small point, but campaignsknow they offer potential embarrassing moments. Cameras caughtPresident Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, checking his watchduring one debate and Al Gore sighing during answers given byGeorge W. Bush during a 2000 debate.

As part of a pool for all the networks, Fox News Channel isoperating the cameras at Thursday’s debate, scheduled for theUniversity of Miami campus.

“We’re providing all the networks’ coverage and we’re not goingto follow directions from outside sources,” said Paul Schur, FoxNews Channel spokesman.

Fox is expected to provide each network with feeds from severaldifferent cameras, giving each of them discretion on which shots toair.

NBC News, which will show the debate on its broadcast networkand on MSNBC, “will use pictures as we see fit,” spokeswomanBarbara Levin said.

It’s not clear whether the Commission on Presidential Debateswill try to enforce these rules. A representative of the commissiondid not return a call Tuesday seeking comment. Presidentialcampaigns have the option of dropping out if the agreement isn’tfollowed, but it might be tough to explain to voters that theircandidate won’t participate because he’s worried about acamera.

The moderator of Thursday’s debate is Jim Lehrer, host of PBS’s”News Hour.” ABC’s Charlie Gibson and CBS’s Bob Schieffer will hostsubsequent presidential debates, and PBS’s Gwen Ifill will moderatethe vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and JohnEdwards.

The four moderators were compelled to sign the agreement,signifying approval to all the conditions, or run the risk thatthey will be replaced.

It’s unclear whether any of the moderators have done so. A PBSspokesman, Rob Flynn, refused to say whether Lehrer or Ifillwould.

Some network executives believe that no one will sign theagreement, except for the campaigns.

“We don’t enter into agreements with the people that we cover,”said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, adding that the networkis looking forward to Gibson’s participation and plans to cover allfour events live.

-From wire reports